Fugazi have always been one of my favourite bands and one song of theirs that always stuck in my head was ‘Target’
– “If you want to seize the sound, you don’t need a reservation”
For years I thought that the lyric was “if you want to seize the sound, you don’t need an invitation”
Anyway, I think they both apply to this.
When I arrived in Glasgow for the first time I picked up a fanzine written by members of a band called Urusei Yatsura. It was called Kitten Frenzy. On the back was a guide on how to release your own 7 inch record. I followed it to the letter (with some additional kind and helpful advice from Alex Kapranos who used to book gigs for a venue called the 13th Note at the time). Aereogramme followed the same advice. Years later, the two A Mote of Dust records have been self released and I don’t think I would have known it was possible without ever having that initial guide to give me the confidence to try.
If you want to release your own records, you can. It just needs a lot of planning, good friends and a bit of tenacity. I have found it a lot of work but incredibly rewarding. Keep in mind though that it’s probably not going to be possible by yourself. You are going to need help.
In case you missed it, we used Bandcamp and it has been a brilliant platform to use. I highly recommend it.
Anyway, I thought it may be useful to produce this guide in case anyone finds it useful. None of this should be seen as the right way, it’s just the way I did it (which will have a Eurocentric angle to it when I link to certain companies.)
This is a long list but don’t let this put you off. You don’t have to do these all at once. Take your time and don’t give yourself unnecessary deadlines.
But like I say, if you ever wanted to release your own record, you can. And you don’t need anyone to give you permission.
Things to consider.
1. Money - You are going to need financial capital of some sort. Work out a way to get money. I realise this is easier for those from a middle to upper class background. If you don’t have that luxury, you may have to get creative (which is advice that I would recommend at every stage) or find someone to help you finance it.
The Unwinding Hours applied for an art council grant and that helped me pay for future releases but I received a lot of advice and help applying for that grant. I’ve also received financial help from friends as well. I’ve been lucky. Don’t get yourself into trouble trying to find money but there is help out there if you can find the right people to talk to or grants to apply for. Do some research and see what you can find. This brings me to point 2
2. Why are you releasing it? - Figure out why you are going to release a physical product. What’s the point of going through it all? You need a reason and a goal because this will help you achieve it and sell it. Creating something aesthetically pleasing or making a statement of some sort is absolutely fine but an “official” release with everything in place will make a difference in getting people’s attention. Your band existing isn’t enough. Go out and play gigs and create interest and demand. By all means, release something online but then try and aim to create something on vinyl or CD that people haven’t heard before to create a focus. When you “release” something, there is a small window of opportunity to grab people’s attention when you are ready to announce it.
3. Budget – Factor in everything below and the cost of recording. Work out how many records you think you may be able to sell and see if the numbers add up. But be realistic. Andrew from Chemikal Underground told me that printing 1000 of the first Mote of Dust records was daft. He was right. Boxes are still spread all over various friend’s houses. We printed 500 of the 2nd album and it has worked out just right.
4. Label- This is the part I don’t think many people realise. If you are going to release your own record, you are the label. So, give it a name and put it on the cover. At this level and when it is your own record you are releasing, that’s it. I’m sure someone will argue with me here but no-one has ever questioned the “labels” I have created (or made up, depending on your perspective).
5. Artwork - This doesn’t apply to every release but personally, I’m a real sucker for great artwork. Over the years I have been intrigued and drawn to listen to an album purely by the artwork. Good artwork tells me that the band have an eye for detail and so they have probably put at least as much effort into the music as well. The simple fact is that it is really hard to get people’s attention over the white noise of the internet and so artwork can make a big difference to make your release stand out. Think about what has drawn your attention recently and work from there. Get help if you don’t have an eye for this and work with someone you trust.
6. Design – I would also either learn how to use photoshop or pay a friend that does. The amount of knowledge that is needed to make sure the correct specifications are met for the packaging of the vinyl, CD, website, itunes/spotify picture, tshirts etc…means you are really going to have to know your way around this. I find it hard and it’s a constant frustration.
7. Vinyl production - Find a reliable place to get the records printed. I use Key productions and I have always found them very professional and straight to the point. You are going to need a barcode number (EPAN) but they can provide you with one. Pro tip – When you plan or printing up your record avoid dates close to Record Store Day like the plague.
8. The boring but really important stuff - Look into the legal and useful things that will help you earn some money back like PRS , ISRC codes and I’m sure there are way more important tips for digital earnings that I’m way behind on. Personally I couldn’t be arsed doing merch online because I never wanted to become a shop but merch is a life saver and a very, very good idea so certainly get it for playing shows.
9. Central hub for file storage.Get somewhere to upload and download large files. You need a central place to pass files and receive files. I use dropbox and it saves a lot of pain when you need to send music, designs and videos back and forth.
10. Digital distribution –I use AWAL and apart from their crappy beta music uploader, I’ve had a great and reliable service from them. They will get your music on every major digital platform, worldwide. You are also able to opt out of territories if you wish to.
11. Physical distribution – Using a physical distributor will get your records into the shops but factor in that they will take their cut and the record shop will take their cut as well (quite rightly). This is something you need to weigh up. If you are only going to sell a small amount then you could probably handle the distribution yourself (i.e. post them!). However, get your product into as many record stores as you can because their influence and passion to support quality new releases is worth it. It always has been.
12. Self distribution– You are going to get to know your local post office very well so go to one you like and get on with. You will most likely need air mail stickers, customs stickers and “fragile” stickers so make friends with them and they may give you a free sheets. For packaging, I use Sounds Wholesale.
13. Press release – Frankly, I hate these things and I can’t imagine any journalist looks forward to reading them. However, over the years, I’ve noticed that they do actually matter and you can make it clear what you want to talk about and can include things to save these questions having to be asked (how you came up with your band name or that you would rather be classed simply as a rock band instead of a post rock band, for example.) Also, if you don’t want to spend a year talking about a non-existent firework incident involving the Flaming Lips, make sure that it isn’t in your press release. Trust me on this one.
14. Photos – You can be sneaky and try to do it yourself but it won’t be anywhere near as good as using a good photographer. Find someone you like and trust and then pay them! Photographers are some of the most unappreciated jobs in the world but a great photo will stick in your memory and make you want to check out a band. Everyone thinks they can do it, but the good ones stand out by a mile. I cannot stress this enough though, try and do something interesting with your band/artist photos. The world has seen a million bands staring into the distance in different directions.
15. Videos – It’s something you absolutely need but as mentioned before, it’s worth tying it into a release of some sort. The video will be a great excuse for websites and blog posts to talk about you and link to the song. Be creative. If you want an amazing looking video then be prepared to pay for it because a good director will be worth the money. However, a good video needs a good idea first and foremost and doesn’t need to look expensive. Once again though, make friends with people that are passionate about filming and if they have the skills, speak to them about what you want but trust them and give them the creative control. And yes, pay them.
16. I also asked Isa from the brilliant Stargazer Records her opinion on this area since she has way more experience than me. This is from her perspective in Germany and she sent me the following,
“Try to book as many gigs as possible. It is tough in the bigger cities and the “regular“ venues, but there are many smaller venues who give smaller acts the chance to perform for a hungry audience in the suburbs. Build yourself a fanbase. Hire a PR agent (there are cheap ones out there who work for 500 Euro and still do a good job) and release the album digitally through a platform like AWAL for example and as limited vinyl pressing through your own store / bandcamp. There are companies like 100vinyl that offers smaller runs of 100. Maybe do special artwork / silkscreen printed design etc. to attract the audience. Nowadays people buy records because they look nice, so a coloured /multicoloured version might sell even better. If this all works out fine I am pretty sure they will reach the attention of a label - and in that case you can decide if you still want to work with a label or take the next step by approaching a distributor.
However, at least in Germany no distributor will pick up a single band that is new on the scene - as they mainly work with labels.”
I hope it helps or encourages someone out there. Good luck.
You can find our records here - https://amoteofdustofficial.bandcamp.com/
CD’s and merch here - https://stargazerrecords.bandcamp.com/merch